The road to Maryhill stage paved with decades of tradition

A toe-tapping, twangy show steeped in history is coming to The Commercial Tavern in Maryhill.

On June 11, Canada’s Largest Traveling Barn Dance will see a variety of artists take the stage, singing, fiddling and joking around with audience members.

Doug Dietrich, the music director of the show, notes the Barn Dance has been around for 80 years, and experienced a comeback in the 1990s. This time around, along with Dietrich and the Barn Dance Show Band, artists Crystal Gage, Ryan St. Denis, Jim Otterbein and John and Geneva Heaman will be on stage.

Gage has been singing with the Barn Dance show since she was a teenager.

“She was in her teens when she called and she was very interested in the type of music we were making and wanted to be a part of it, and she has blossomed into quite the performer,” said Dietrich, adding that she still performs, but now with her husband, Ryan St. Denis. “He is very accomplished. He is classically trained, but he is great with country fiddle too. They are just great together. They play off each other very well, and they are passionate about their music.”

Otterbein has country music in his blood. He is a third generation Barn Dance performer.

“His grandfather was one of the original performers on the Barn Dance, and Jim’s father was the one who got me involved in the Barn Dance,” shared Dietrich. “The Otterbein Family used to perform as a family group at one point in time. He is keeping the tradition going.”

The Heamans are singers, but they have a few tricks up their sleeve that make them stand out.

“They are one of the most regular performers for us, just because of the variety he adds to the lineup with his comedy and ventriloquism,” said Dietrich. “He is small in stature, like Little Jimmy Dickens out of Nashville. John will actually do a tribute to Little Jimmy Dickens at the Maryhill show as well.”

The tradition of the Barn Dance started back in 1937 when a disc jockey at CKNX in Wingham, Ontario played a selection of country music, and station founder, Doc Cruikshank decided to make it a regular program, but with live music. The show hit the road and television, touring all over Ontario for some 25 years. It experienced a comeback in 1997 when the most modern iteration of the show started touring once again.

The Maryhill stop on the Barn Dance schedule will also feature a surprise presentation, but Dietrich doesn’t want to reveal too much ahead of the show.

Dietrich is also on the board of directors for the Barn Dance Society, the keepers of a Barn Dance Museum in Wingham displaying memorabilia from days gone by.

“We just want to keep remembering those who came before us and that kind of thing,” he said. “We try to keep the tradition alive.”

He says he thinks that there are fewer fans of a Barn Dance kind of show, but there is still a core audience that loves coming to see the artists.

“Wingham used to be deemed the Nashville of Canada. That didn’t continue, but they had the Barn Dance shows and then that kind of faded out. Music changed, television came along and I think now it tends to be an older crowd that comes,” he said. “We can’t pretend that we are catering to young crowd, because what we are trying to do is stay true to a traditional form of country music but maybe it will come around.”

Tickets to the Barn Dance at the Commercial Tavern are $25 each and can be purchased by calling 519-648-3644.

The show starts at 3 p.m. on June 11.

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